Blue Diamond breaks ground on phase two in Turlock
BY ANGELINA MARTIN
Less than seven years after Blue Diamond Growers broke ground on its Turlock facility, representatives from the almond marketer and processor once again pulled out the golden shovels on the morning of Jan. 29 as they celebrated the plant’s expansion.
Since opening in 2013, Turlock’s Blue Diamond facility has received a number of accolades, including Food Engineering Magazine’s title of the 2014 Plant of the Year, as well as being named to Boston Consulting Group’s list of the fastest-growing midsize companies in the nation.
The company was able to move from groundbreaking to startup for the original plant in just 13 months, and Blue Diamond President and CEO Mark Jansen hopes the facility’s expansion will move along just as quickly since the company needs the space.
“Blue Diamond just continues to grow and we’re growing rapidly,” Jansen said. “We built phase one in a year which was unheard of, and we’ll need to do that again. Turlock has been a great partner and has helped us with this fast expansion.”
With an estimated completion date of spring 2020, the Blue Diamond expansion consists of 52,000 square feet which will be used specifically to create an integrated almond beverage base line, where, for the first time, everything needed for the product will be manufactured in the same facility. The base for Blue Diamond’s beverage line, Almond Breeze, will be created at the Turlock expansion through a process of blanching, splitting, roasting and grinding the almonds into a buttery paste, which will then be shipped all over the world to be mixed with water and sold as almond milk.
According to Jansen, Blue Diamond’s Almond Breeze production has experienced double digit growth over the last 20 years. Last year, the brand grew by 14 percent. The original Turlock Blue Diamond facility is already processing about 25 percent more almonds than the company originally thought possible for the plant’s capacity, Jansen added, after the company recently added an almond flour line to the mix.
“We physically are out of space, and our great employees here are getting every last bit of almonds through that we possibly can,” Jansen said. “We needed to find room to expand that production.”
The expansion comes as phase two in a three-phase, 15-year project that began when Blue Diamond purchased 88 acres at the intersection of North Washington and Fulkerth Road in late 2011. Since then, companies like Hilmar Cheese and Valley Milk have made their way into the Turlock Regional Industrial Park, while already-established facilities like United States Cold Storage and Sunnyside Farms are also currently in expansion mode.
Jansen was unable to say just how many jobs Blue Diamond’s expansion will bring to Turlock, but Assistant to the City Manager for Housing and Economic Development Maryn Pitt estimates that all three expansions currently in the works within the industrial park will bring close to 200 employment openings to the area.
At Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak pointed out the industrial park’s recent success for both the City of Turlock as well as its residents.
“Our base sector employees are key to our local economy, stability and growth,” she said. “We truly are growing our reputation as the Silicon Valley of food processing.”
Jansen said that in addition to a line for the Almond Breeze base, a future line inside of the expansion will serve as a production means for an innovative product yet to be announced.
“The next big idea, like the next almond flour or Almond Breeze, will also be housed in this expansion,” Jansen said. “We’ve got a great big funnel full of products and innovations we’re continuing to evaluate and test, and one of those is likely to be produced here in Turlock within the next year.”
The project will be completed in 14 months time — something made possible by the years-long partnership Blue Diamond has forged with the City of Turlock, Jansen said, which ensured upon the original plant’s development that the Turlock Regional Industrial Park was “shovel-ready” and continues to do so today.
“This speaks to the ongoing partnership with Blue Diamond, their existence here and their commitment to the Turlock community both in terms of being part of the vertical integration for our local farmers but also in providing jobs and being a corporate member of our community,” Pitt said. “It really has put us on the map in terms of high-tech agriculture.”